Angst for the Memories
07/30/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT
David Letterman called the show "skinny white people from hell." But from the night thirtysomething hit the airwaves in September 1987, network television would never be the same. "It had an authenticity," says costar Ken Olin. "That's why people loved it, and why people loathed it."
Revolving around seven endlessly introspective Philadelphians—some just called them annoying—the ABC drama tackled everything from cancer and infidelity to dating and home renovation. By the time it went off the air in 1991, it had won 13 Emmys—including a 1988 award for best drama—and become an emblem of the baby boom generation. "We were one of the first series to depict characters who were not heroic, who had deep flaws," says Marshall Herskovitz, who created the show with fellow producer Ed Zwick.
Ten years later, with reruns airing on Bravo, cast members look back fondly on their 'something years, but they've also moved on. "The older you get, the more you learn to appreciate your life and what you have," says Polly Draper, who played Ellyn. In other words, no more whining.
Hope Steadman, the have-it-all mom
Mel Harris learned a lesson about discretion on thirtysomething. "Tell the writers and producers anything," she says, "and it would end up in the script." At the start of the third season, though, she was unable to hide one obvious fact: She was pregnant—by her then husband, actor Cotter Smith—with Madeline, now 11. (Madeline's brother Byron, 17, is the son of Harris's previous husband, photographer David Hume Kennedy.) "I had pregnant friends doing series TV who were berated," she says. "But Ed and Marshall were terrific. I said, 'I'm having a baby' and they said, 'Fine. We'll write it into the show.' "
Recently wed yet again, to investment banker Mike Toomey, 41, Harris, 43, who lives in Pacific Palisades, continues to act on TV and in independent films. She also began training for triathlons this year. "I swim, bike and yoga," she says. That doesn't leave much time for TV-watching, but she has caught the occasional thirtysomething rerun. "What I come away with is how we pushed the envelope, like the episode where two guys were in bed talking," she says. "I saw that again and felt, 'More power to us.' "
Melissa Steadman, the free spirit
If viewers were caught off guard by the abrupt end of thirtysomething's run, Melanie Mayron was more so. "I read about it in USA Today," says the actress, who won an Emmy in 1989 for playing Melissa. "I was devastated."
Especially since she was a big fan too. "I watched the show like anybody else," says Mayron, 48, now a successful film and TV director (The Babysitter's Club, Dawson's Creek). She even hosted a cast viewing party at her home for the episode in which Peter Hor-ton's Gary was killed. "We all got along so well," she says.
Small wonder, since their characters were often reflections of themselves. Mayron, who once worked taking head shots of actors, came up with the idea of making Melissa a photographer. And the never-married actress's penchant for dating younger men led to the story line involving Lee Owens.
Mayron's latest project is also a group effort. The Good Baby line of bath and body products she developed with her chemist father, David, 74 (her mother, Norma, 71, is a real estate agent), was inspired by the two 2½-year-olds she's raising in her Hollywood Hills bungalow, daughter Olivia and son Miles. Could her son have been named in a fit of thirty-something nostalgia? "No!" Mayron insists, horrified, "Not after Miles Drentell!"
Ken Olin & Patricia Wetting
Michael Steadman, the earnest family man, and Nancy Weston, the long-suffering wife
It was a case of life not imitating art. On the show, Nancy (Wettig) was married to Elliot (Timothy Busfield), while Michael (Olin) was wed to Hope (Mel Harris). But in reality, Wettig and Olin were husband and wife. Still with us? "That confused people for such a long time," admits Wettig, now 49, who married Olin in 1982 after they met on a train ride from New York to New Hampshire. When the show was cast, producers "thought we weren't good as a couple," says Wettig. "But we've been married for 19 years, so I guess we're not such a bad couple after all!"
Now living in Santa Monica with Olin, who turns 47 this month, and their kids Cliff, 18, and Roxy, 15, Wettig says the family's Craftsman-style house calls to mind the one Olin's character occupied on the show. "With all the wood, people come in and go, 'Wait a minute, this is the Steadman house!' " she says. "It's very funny."
But while the house may be reminiscent of thirtysomething, Wettig and Olin have long since refurbished their lives. In May Wettig received a master's degree in playwriting from Smith College, and one of her works will be performed at a New York City theater festival this summer. "That's been my focus, shifting from acting to writing," she says. Her husband, meanwhile, has continued in front of the camera (most recently in a sitcom pilot for CBS) as well as behind it, directing episodes of Felicity and The West Wing. "We've grown up in a lot of ways," says Olin. "You get over yourself in your 40s." Yet Olin defends the self-involvement that characterized thirtysomething. "It was of a time when self-investigation was paramount," he says. "There was nothing on television that was as personal." Maybe so, but the couple's teenagers are hardly impressed. "The kids never asked to see the reruns, they're not that interested in us," says Wettig with a laugh. Too bad, moans Olin. "They're closer to 30 now than we are."
Gary Shepherd, the Peter Pan professor
When Horton's character died in a road accident during the final season, fans weren't the only ones shaken. "As much as I wanted to move on from the show, I went through a kind of mourning period," says the actor. "I remember Tim [Busfield] said to me, 'I feel like we've all been in this plane and one of our members just parachuted out.' "
As it turned out, Horton, 47, found that there was show business life after death. He continued acting (he costarred in The Geena Davis Show on ABC last year) while also forging a successful directing career, working on a string of television films and series. Among them: Once and Again, the ABC hit from 'something creators Zwick and Herskovitz, which Horton likens to thirtysomething 10 years later. "In your 40s you're dealing more with larger issues of life," says Horton. "Still embroiled with divorce, marriage and children, but also contending with mortality, with life's purpose,"
All are issues Horton can identify with. Divorced from Michelle Pfeiffer in 1988 after a seven-year marriage, Horton has been married since 1995 to former sports journalist Nicole Deputron, 29. The couple, who live in Los Angeles, had their first child, a daughter, last October. "One of the advantages of waiting to have children is the anticipation," says Horton. "By the time our daughter came along, it was like this dam ready to burst. It's so wonderful, it's hard for me to leave the house."
Elliot Weston, the errant husband
Playing thirtysomething's bad boy didn't just win Busfield an Emmy, it made him a target. "I was in a supermarket once and this woman walks up and says, 'What you said to Nancy was awful!' and I felt this hand hit the side of my face," he recalls. "I said, That's going a little far, don't you think?' "
Since the show ended, he has faced trouble offscreen as well, including a sexual harassment complaint lodged by a 17-year-old female extra in the 1994 film Little Big League. (Busfield denied the charges and the case was settled out of court.) But Busfield, 44, has also found success as an actor (he plays reporter Danny Concannon on The West Wing), director (First Years) and stage producer (at two small theaters he owns in Sacramento with his brother Buck, 49). "I've produced about 100 plays," he says.
Married since 1988 to fashion designer Jennifer Merwin, 40, Busfield now makes his home in Sacramento, where he spends his free time playing semipro baseball ("I'm 30-12 lifetime as a starting pitcher," he reports) and coaching his 10-year-old son Samuel's Little League team. "It's such a kick," says the actor, who also has a daughter, Daisy, 12, with Merwin, and a son, Wilson, 19, from a previous marriage. One thing he does not do, however, is let the kids watch thirtysomething reruns. "I think my daughter would go into shock seeing Dad at his worst," he says with a laugh. "She'd think I was a pig!"
EHyn Warren, the career woman
Ellyn's often outrageous behavior—sleeping with a married man, snooping in her friends' bedroom—could be so obnoxious that "even my relatives would be angry with me," recalls Draper, 45. But not everyone was turned off. During a 1990 appearance on The Arsenic Hall Show, Draper found a fan in musical director Michael Wolff. "He hit on me," she says with a laugh. He also began sending her roses, and before long, Draper, divorced at the time, was smitten too. She and Wolff, now 48 and leading his own jazz group, married in 1993 and live in New York City with sons Nat, 6, and Alex, 3.
Post-thirtysomething, Draper has continued to act (she had a recurring role on ABC's Gideon's Crossing last year and a leading one in Blur Off-Broadway this spring). But the project closest to her heart has been The Tic Code, a critically acclaimed 1998 movie that Draper wrote, produced and starred in about a single mother whose son has Tourette's syndrome. Wolff, who suffers from the inherited neurological disorder and has the involuntary tics that often accompany it, initially opposed Draper's making the film. But her determination eventually persuaded him to speak publicly about his battle with Tourette's. "Writing the movie was liberating and exciting for me," she says. "And Michael came out of hiding. If one of our kids developed Tourette's, it would be so much better at this point than it would have been before."